Art Deco furniture in France, 1910-1940

For lovers of precious wood furniture and other marquetry enthusiasts, Art Deco furniture, produced primarily from the 1910s, shortly before World War I, until the 1940s, when it began to decline, is a Must.

This period marks the dominance of Art Deco in France, born in reaction to the aesthetics advocated by Art Nouveau, which was very much in vogue at the end of the 21st century and the beginning of the 20th. The promoters of Art Deco wanted to put an end to the aesthetics of curved lines and organic forms conveyed in the Art Nouveau. The lines are more geometric, less round and more refined, without giving up on an interior decoration using materials called "rich".

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Art Deco will be progressively overtaken by its avant-garde, designers less attached to the decorative value of the object but more to its function, and wishing to democratize a furniture reserved for the wealthy elite.

The central figure of Art Decoc'is the decorator (we also speak of interior architect), a status he then shares with the architect (tout court). The latter conceives the buildings but entrusts the decorator with the task of creating, of course, the interior furniture, but also with the detailed design of each room to create a particular atmosphere. It is thus not by chance that the interior architectPierre Chareau (1883-1950) was spotted by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945)to design furniture for the famous Villa de Noailles(1923-1925).

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Villa Cavrois, Parent's bedroom, period photo.
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The Villa Cavrois today, the parents' bedroom has been reconstructed with period furniture. The room is a good example of Art Deco. Sober lines with the use of precious woods, here furniture veneered with palm and walls painted in beige, looking for a certain elegance...
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The Villa Cavrois Smokehouse, a room once again very typical of the Art Deco in vogue in the 1920s: the floor, walls, ceiling are thus made of natural waxed Cuban mahogany. The restoration was also made with a mahogany from Honduras. Oval coffee table.

Pierre Chareau impressed in1925, on the occasion of the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs etIndustriels Modernes de Paris, an event that marked the apogee of the Artdeco style, with the very famous Bureau-bibliothèque du Pavillon de l'ambassadefrançaise, now reconstructed at the Musée des arts décoratifs. What's more, Chareau was an inventive designer who liked to think about the function of furniture, which is why he would make many pieces of wooden furniture with mechanisms and movable elements.

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French Embassy Office-Library, design and conception: Pierre Chareau, 1925. Beech frame, palm wood veneer.
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"Fan" side table, Model MB106, design by Pierre Chareau, ca. 1924. Made of mahogany, it is composed of 4 nesting tables with triangular tops fanning out around a common base.

But the real "star" of the show was the decorator Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-1933), who triumphed with the realization of the Pavillon du Collectionneur, a building whose construction he entrusted to his great architect friend, Pierre Patout (1879-1965).Self-taught, Ruhlmann established himself as the master of Art Deco. One of the first creations that made him known is La Desserte, known as Meuble au char,designed in 1922.

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Cart furniture, 1922, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann design. Perhaps the decorator's masterpiece. Elaborated from amaranth wood, Indonesian ebony and ivory marquetry, spindle legs, this piece of furniture imposes its outsized dimensions: 2.25 m long for 1.09 m high.

Why is the "Ruhlmann" style so representative of Art Deco? A love for marquetry and the work of precious woods of course: from rare species such as rosewood from India and Brazil, to amaranth from Guyana or mahogany from Cuba and ebony from Macassar (Indonesia), Ruhlmann likes to work with exotic woods with a very strong "personality". He is an aesthete who is particularly fond of pure and elegant lines that contrast with the Art Nouveau style: it was he who made the piedfuseau fashionable.

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Le Chiffonnier Cabanel, furniture made by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1922-1923). The Ruhlmann style: a mix of woods (oak, ebony and ivory tips) for a piece with a refined look.
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Spindle pocket holder, Macassar ebony and ivory marquetry (1921-1922). Design: Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann.

In his career, Jacques-EmileRuhlmann would not be satisfied with designing furniture. Between 1925 and 1930, he created a series of vases with very pure forms, as well as a cup and saucer for the Manufacture de Sèvres. The collaboration between the exceptional Manufacture and the champion of Art Deco elegance resulted in refined and timeless pieces. Decorator solicited, he is called to decorate the Elysee Palace, the Presidency of the National Assembly or even ministries.

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Ruhlmann Vase #3, 1926. Accordance of porcelain and gilt bronze, purity of lines. © Sèvres - Cité de la Céramique
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Ruhlmann cup and saucer, circa 1930. White and gold decoration, circa 2000, Cité de la céramique, Sèvres.

In addition to Ruhlmann, other designers would give French Art Deco furniture its letters of nobility.Let's mention Eileen Gray (1878-1976) to whom the Centre Pompidou has also dedicated a beautiful retrospective in 2013, André Mare (1885-1932), JulesLeleu (1883-1961), Eugene Printz (1889-1948), Paul Follot (1877-1941) and PierreLegrain (1889-1929. In addition, many of Jacques-EmileRuhlmann's collaborators would be recruited from the benches of the Ecole Boulle.

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Jules Leleu, inlaid sideboard, 1930.
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Armoire by Jules Leleu, 1937, in macassar ebony, eglomized glass, chrome-plated metal base by ironworker Raymond Subes.
Rectangular veined marble top chest of drawers, Paul Follot, circa 1925. The chest of drawers rests on an oak box, burl veneer opening in the front with 3 drawers stacked with 2 doors.

Art Deco decorators also often called upon craftsmen on their sites. Among the most famous craftsmen of the time, we can mention the cabinetmakers Adolphe Chanaux (-1965) and Jules Deroubaix (1904-1979), the ironworker Raymond Subes (1891-1970), the glassmakers René Lalique (1860-1945) who founded the famous eponymous house, Maurice Marinot (1882-1960), Louis Barillet (1880-1948), François Décorchemont (1880-1971) or the lacquer specialists Jean Dunand (1877-1942) and Gaston Suisse (1896-1988).

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Gaston Suisse, "New York" screen, 1925, in black Chinese lacquer, enriched with graphite and silver leaf.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco decorators and craftsmen were able to showcase their expertise by carrying out the interior design and decoration of ships,especially those of "transatlantic". Embarking a very rich clientele, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (known as the "Transat") did not hesitate to hire the best craftsmen of the genre to modernize the interior of its liners. In 1935, the Normandie, for some "a veritable cathedral on the sea of Art Deco", came out!

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Interior of the liner Normandie, Grand Salon, photo: Hamon.
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Interior of the liner Normandie, 1st Class Smokehouse, photo Hamon.
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One of the smokehouse door patterns. Photo Hamon.

While the most famous representatives of Art Deco made a good living, it must be recognized that they catered to a very well-to-do clientele (the choice of luxurious materials was expensive) with ultimately rather conformist tastes. This is why Art Deco will gradually disappear in favor of designers who want to democratize the furniture and ensure access to the greatest number.

The latter also reject the "ostentatious" side of Art Deco, and, from the late 1920s, we see a new generation of decorators, architects and designers challenge the influence of the great decorators of the time. A large part of them thus founded the Union of Modern Artists (UAM) in 1929; their names were Robert Mallet-Stevens (already well established in the profession), Charlotte Perriand, René Herbst, Jean Prouvé, Georges Bourgeois known as Djo-Bourgeois, or even Hélène Henry... A new story begins...

François Boutard

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